Written by Michitaka Kobayashi
Photes by Osamu Nakamura
As I climbed the steep stairs to the Yamatsumi shinto shrine from the entrance gateway at the bottom of the mountain, the view over the beautiful Iitate village surrounded by the rich nature appeared in front of me. There was once a rumor, based on a TV program, that Yamatzumi shrine blocked the wave of radiation, shielding the village. I asked about the rumor, but the person living in the shrine laughed my question down saying, “Oh, I have heard about it!” Maybe the TV clues wanted to create an emotional episode that a shinto shrine protected the village from radiation.
As soon as we met, Hosokawa started saying, “This country is going mad. There is something seriously wrong going on”. He led us to the ranch after quick exchange of greetings. According to him, horses have fallen ill one by one within these short weeks. Among his 34 horses, four were unable to stand up anymore.
One of the four, a white miniature horse, had the worst condition. Its skin was badly damaged. The veterinarian doctor who accompanied us saw it and indicated the symptoms of damaged liver although he did not know the reason. It had jaundiced eyes. The doctor was wondering why its knees were so wobbly. Hosokawa stroked the lying horse, saying, “I think it can’t make it through this month. Poor thing….”
A wild boar rushed down beside the ranch, as we were talking.
15 foals have been born since the beginning of this year, but 14 of them died within a month, sometimes within a week.
“I have lived with horses since I was a kid, but I have never seen anything like this. It’s not normal. I think radiation is responsible for this”.
Hosokawa stresses the effect of radiation as a cause. Of course he doesn’t have proper scientific grounds to support his idea, but his long relationship with horses gives him the instinctive feeling.
The media have reported that many cows had died in the evacuation area, because people who fed them left the village, and the cows didn’t get sufficient nutrition to survive. However, the horses on Hosokawa’s ranch have been getting sufficient feed, if not plenty.The horses without symptoms did not look skinny and seemed to have appetite.
Later we asked a public health control centre to check the blood of the miniature horse. The results were negative for transmitted diseases or nutrient deficiency. But they did not conclude that it was not leukemia, which can be connected with radiation. The centre said they needed further investigation to determine the cause of the horse’s debility.
Recently at a conference at Tokyo University four scientists reported that some abnormalities in plants and animals have been witnessed around the areas of Fukushima nuclear power plants, including Iitate. However, under the current regulation for radiation, the effects of radiation may not even be associated with the thyroid cancer on children. It would be highly doubtful to acknowledge the association between the radiation effect and the abnormal conditions of the horses. Howeve, although there is a difficulty to admit the relationship between radiation and health risks, the fact that Iitate is included in the evacuation zone means that there is a certain risk in health to stay in the area.
Maybe the alarming conditions of animals may bring up new insight. What is happening to the horses?
Hosokawa had been actively involved in local community activities. He had participated with his horses at many events organized by shrines all around Japan and in traditional samurai TV series. His horses have appeared on TV with popular samurai heroes on their backs. Hosokawa’s horses had also served for local elementary schools and schools for the blind, for therapy purposes.
After the earthquake, Hosokawa evacuated with his wife and daughter, but he soon returned to his village to look after the cows and horses, which he treats like members of his family. He even rescued animals living at other farms with his truck, as a favour, asked by fellow domestic livestock dealers. Since then, he has been fighting alone, literally, only by himself.
He has pleaded with TEPCO and the Iitate local authorities to evacuate horses to other areas, but he has been turned down for the reason that there is no place to accept the animals. So he stayed in the village and kept looking after horses. He somehow managed to send 87 horses away safely using his personal connections. He claimed TEPCO for compensation for the 87 horses, but the power company rejected his claim for the lack of evidence of Hosokawa breeding his horses.
“To be honest with you, I have almost reached the limit to give up. But I can’t leave the horses behind. They have helped our family in generations. How can I abandon them? I’m ready to die with my horses here”.
Hosokawa has been ignoring suggestions to do health check-ups on himself, and getting internal radiation measuring with the Whole Body Counter. For Hosokawa, what he can do now is to save the horses in return for their serving Hosokawa family.
At his ranch, the dead bodies of horses which died a month ago, now only with bones and skin exposed after being eaten by birds and foxes, were left on the ground unattached.
“It is illegal to keep the dead bodies like this, but I keep them as evidence of the horses’ death to present to TEPCO. I wish I could bury them”.
The white miniature horse with the serious health conditions died at the end of March, a week after our visit. As soon as it died, crows came and plucked out the eye balls from its head, Hosokawa later told me.
We were overwhelmed by Hosokawa’s ghastly expression on his face and stunned with a shock by the grave situation, which was beyond our imagination.
“This country is going mad, I‘m sure something grave is going to happen”. He murmured many times, as if he was talking to himself.
On April 1, we heard that Yamatzumi shrine had burned down, and that the body of a woman was found on the site.
Request form Hosokawa
Hosokawa hasn’t openly talked about his horses and their unusual conditions because he feared that it would trouble others with whom he has personally relations. However, having seen increasing cases of abnormalities in the horses, he finally decided to make the matter public.
He wants to make his situation, name, and address public so that anyone who is interested in this matter can contact him. Hosokawa hopes that research bodies concerned with animals and livestock, and radiation, would conduct further research on the horses.
Usuisiaza cho 123-1, Iitate, Soma-gun, Fukushima prefecture
The article was originally published in March 20, 2012、by Michitaka Kobayashi (text) and Osamu Nakamura (ｐhotes) at "Shinsai no Ato" "After the Earthquake" project.
Translated by WNSCR team